If you need some background, have a look at my earlier post about Ball State University (BSU) in Indiana.
At that University resides one Eric Hedin, an assistant professor at BSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Hedin teaches two courses (actually, probably one course with three different names, “Inquiries in the Physical Sciences,” “The Boundaries of Science,” and “The Universe and You”), one of which meets the science requirement for Honors Students at BSU. My post reproduced the syllabus of the “science” course, “Astronomy 151, The Boundaries of Science,” which showed that the course was nothing more than a vehicle for purveying intelligent design and Christianity to the students.
Further, three Ball State students at the Rate My Professors site criticized Hedin for proselytizing a Christian viewpoint in his classes; these complaints go back to 2006. It’s pretty clear that Hedin is simply a stealth Christian, who takes the opportunity in his classes to push his religious views on the students—to the neglect of real science.
When I wrote about this situation, which clearly violates the First Amendment separating religious endorsement from U.S. governmental operations (these include public schools, of which BSU is one), several readers, as well as both P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, argued that this was not a First Amendment violation for three reasons. First, the class was elective, so students didn’t have to take it. Second, this occurred at a university, not a public elementary or high school, and, presumably, you can violate the First Amendment in university classes. Third, at universities, “academic freedom” trumps the First Amendment; that is, professors can push whatever religious views they want on their students, even in science classes, for that’s simply the exercise of their “academic freedom.” (I note that all of us agree that Hedin’s classes were insupportable and that he should be told to cease teaching them, though people like P. Z. and Larry seem to feel that the professors cannot be forced to stop teaching what they want.)
I disagree with these arguments. “Academic freedom” is not a license to teach whatever you please in a classroom, particularly religion. Imagine how a Jewish student, for instance, must feel when reading Christian apologetics. (One of Hedin’s classes requires reading C. S. Lewis, for crying out loud), and Hedin presents no balance with thinkers who are nonbelievers or of other faiths.) And wouldn’t students feel intimidated to give answers on tests if those answers contravene Hedin’s religious views? If you think professors have the “academic freedom” to teach what they want in classes, imagine a geology teacher teaching Biblical Flood Geology as science, or a professor in medical school teaching homeopathic medicine.
All schools, not just public ones, have the duty to make sure that their students are being taught a balanced curriculum, particularly in science classes where the “truth” is not simply a matter of opinion. And public schools have the additional duty to ensure that their professors—who, after all, are government employees—do not prosyletize their religious beliefs.
My view is that Hedin should not be fired, but that he should be stopped from teaching any classes that advance his religious viewpoints. If he doesn’t stop, then he should be dismissed.
That opinion is shared by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), whose lawyers, when they became aware of Hedin’s activities, wrote the letter below to the President of BSU, the chair of Hedin’s department, and other BSU officials. It’s a “cease and desist” letter asking for relief from Hedin’s unconscionable proselytzing. And it may well be the first step in a lawsuit against BSU.
If you don’t have time to read it (though you should, for it shows how organizations like the FFRF make their case), here is the case law that nullifies the argument that academic freedom trumps freedom from religious indoctrination (this is taken from the letter; note the mention of “optional classes”). Emphasis is mine:
Another legal issue with this class is Hedin’s active promotion of his personal religious views. In Bishop v. Aronov, the University of Alabama ordered a teacher, Dr. Bishop, to stop injecting religion into his classroom. Bishop lost a free speech lawsuit challenging the university’s order. Bishop said things like:
The order telling Bishop to stop such remarks is constitutional. It said:
The court specifically held that the university classroom “is not an open forum,” and upheld the university’s order that the professor “separate his personal beliefs and that he not impart the former to hius students during ‘instructional time’ or under the guise of courses he teaches in so-called optional classes. Id. at 1071. The court was “not persuaded that, even in the remotest sense, Dr. Bishop’s rights of free exercise or worship as those concepts are conprehended in constitutional parlance are implicated.” Id. at 1077.
Here’s the FFRF’s full letter, which I reproduce with permission (click to enlarge):
If anybody from Ball State is reading this: Hedin’s classes are not only unconstitutional, but an embarrassment to your university. Even if you disagree with the freedom-from-religion argument, Hedin’s courses are a discredit to BSU and he should be removed from them or forced to eliminate the religious indoctrination.
Note to others: it appears to be settled law that “academic freedom” cannot, in a public university, be an excuse to teach any damn thing you want.
As I mentioned earlier, I wrote to the chairman of Hedin’s department expressing some of the sentiments above, but he blew me off, arguing that his courses had been deemed satisfactory by University officials. We’ll see if they start singing a different tune now!